When Magna Fortuna dug in for the start of Race 2 at Hawthorne March 13, the tote board said he was 4-1 odds to win.
But if a futures pool existed for such a thing, the odds might have been four million to one that this 3-year-old colt would be alive, let alone anxiously awaiting the gates to fly open in a horse race.
For the first weeks of his life, no one knew Magna Fortuna, a.k.a. “Taxi”, even existed. He was growing inside his mother, who was shipped off to an Indiana livestock auction in June, 2009.
The mare was hours away from being sent to slaughter when Gail Vacca of the Illinois Equine Humane Center (ILEHC) spotted her at the back of a pen, clearly in distress.
“I told the kill buyer, I'd really like to buy that mare. She will not make the trip to Canada,” Vacca said. “He didn't want to, but eventually he sold her to me for $300.”
As they nursed “Lulu” to health, Vacca and her staff discovered that she was pregnant. They would later learn that Lulu was actually a mare named Silver Option and that the foal inside of her was a son of Magna Graduate.
Taxi was born on Tax Day, April 15, 2010. The ILEHC staff registered him with the Jockey Club and named him Magna Fortuna, which means “great luck” or “great fortune.” They decided perhaps this colt should do what he was born to do, and the group formed a racing partnership.
“I thought maybe he could make it to the track and become a “spokeshorse” for the way some of these broodmares are treated,” Vacca said. “It just defies description that people can do this, throw them away like garbage the minute they can't make money off of them.”
We first met Magna Fortuna last December as he prepared to begin his racing career. In his first outing at Hawthorne, Magna Fortuna finished ninth of 12 runners in a Maiden Special Weight race at six furlongs. In his second start in February, he came in seventh of 11 at the same level and distance. But the colt's partners and his trainer, Michele Boyce, were not discouraged. They felt he would improve in a longer race.
On March 13, Laura Donohoe, an ILEHC volunteer who helped head up the partnership, stood on the track apron at Hawthorne, too nervous to watch Magna Fortuna run his third race, this time at 1 1/16 miles.
“I was just listening. I kept listening to (track announcer) Peter Galassi's call,” Donohoe said. “I kept hearing Magna Fortuna, Magna Fortuna. Then he said Taxi was starting to widen, and I looked up and saw him flying, and I couldn't believe it.”
Magna Fortuna hit the wire 9 3/4 lengths in front of his rivals (watch the replay, race 2, 3/13/13). The partners jumped for joy and embraced each other as if they had just won the Kentucky Derby.
“It was just an incredible mixture of elation and I don't want to say shock or disbelief – we had faith that he could do it – it was just so emphatic,” Donohoe said. “It was just like, that's our horse!”
There were others in the stands cheering that day who had come to the track just to see “their horse” run.
“We've gotten fan emails to Taxi, so many emails from people that saw the story and are pulling for him,” said Donohoe. “One of the reasons that we got into this was to drive awareness around responsible ownership, so the positive response has been good.”
Donohoe said there are no immediate plans for Magna Fortuna's next race, but the partners are on the same page about his career. He will never be entered in a claiming race, where he could be purchased, and his well-being will always be the top priority.
“Hopefully, he'll have a long, successful career in racing, and afterwards, we'll find the perfect second career for him. He's a very smart horse, and he likes to keep busy.”
Right now, Magna Fortuna is “just chilling,” awaiting his next opportunity to break from the gates and defy the odds once more.
“You can tell he wants to run again, but we're not going to rush him,” Donohoe said. “We're trying to set him up for a long, healthy career. As Michele said, we'll let Taxi tell us when he's ready.”
A percentage of Magna Fortuna's earnings will go to the Illinois Equine Humane Center, where his 16-year-old mother has a permanent home. Little does she know that her son, a colt that only she knew existed in those fateful days three years ago, is helping take care of her.
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